In the post-Brexit landscape the UK must look to Catapults to help put the country at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, says Bob Gilbert, Chairman of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

The forthcoming Industrial Strategy White Paper and this autumn’s Budget will set a long-term direction for the UK economy. The big challenge is how to modernise the economy to increase productivity and growth in a post-Brexit landscape. One thing is certain. To deliver prosperity, the UK must maximise its strengths in science and innovation and boost the rate of commercialisation of our world-leading research-base.

The Catapult Network plays a vital role here.

Catapults are technology and innovation centres, established by Government with cross-party endorsement and working through Innovate UK. Business-led, with expert boards representing the best of UK industrial know-how, they provide small, medium and large companies nationwide with access to expertise, equipment and facilities to speed up the commercialisation of research.

Catapults are delivering on the vision recently outlined by Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation:

“The challenge and opportunity is firstly to generate knowledge and then to use that knowledge to get societal benefit and innovation and the economic growth that is needed….”

Backed by a mix of public and private sector funding, including £500m of government grant in the last five years, Catapults turn opportunities into real-world applications, break down barriers, boost exports and attract inward investment. Encouraged by the presence of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, McLaren this year announced plans for a £50m investment in Sheffield, expected to produce 200 new jobs and contribute £100m or more to the local economy.

The Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult set up a joint venture company with UCL and Imperial College, to translate their high quality research outputs into clinical stage advanced therapeutics for cancer, and in June transferred the technology to the British SME Cell Medica to take to the market.

Catapults act when the market and public sector sometimes cannot, helping de-risk innovation by road-testing new technologies that businesses are unable to develop until the return on investment (ROI) is clear. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, for example, provides facilities and expertise to test wind and marine turbine components before expensive commercial deployment, contributing to the falling cost of offshore wind energy, and to job creation and economic growth.

The Catapult Network is now ten strong, working with universities and business on complex challenges ranging from motorway congestion to decarbonisation, through the application of data from satellites, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and other novel technologies.

Catapults have achieved notable results already, but they will deliver even greater value in future, when long-term strategic plays, such as making the UK the best testing ground for driverless cars, building better batteries or proving the potential of the Internet of Things, are realised.

Catapults have a critical role in the UK’s modern industrial strategy, helping to put the country at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, transforming our ability to compete economically and ultimately achieve long-term, sustainable success. It is a role that must be strengthened if the UK is to achieve its long-term economic ambitions.

This article also appears in the Labour conference edition of the House Magazine. The Catapult Network  has responded to an article from Daniel Zeichner MP which can be found here.